Cristina Nita-Rotaru

Professor of Computer Science
Khoury College of Computer Sciences
Northeastern University

office: ISEC 626 Directions
lab: Network and Distributed Systems Security [nds2]

network security, resilient distributed systems, automated testing and verification; applications: critical infrastructure, connected cars, blockchains
``There is only one success - to be able to spend your life in your own way.'' Christopher Morley

Cristina Nita-Rotaru

Research for Undergraduate Students

[Why]   [How]   [When]   [What]  

This page is intended for undergraduate students who would like to know more about the benefits of doing research, the opportunities available to them, the best time to get engaged in research, and the possible outcomes of a research activity. For further information, direct your questions to

Why you should do research (even if you don't want to go to graduate school).

Most students think that they should not do research because they do not want to go to graduate school. However, doing research brings many benefits, regardless of what career path somebody might want to pursue. Here are some of them:

  • Learn something you will not learn in any class
  • Get more from college through interactions beyond those with your peers
  • Prepare to make more informed career decisions
  • Know yourself better
  • Learn how to deal with (life's) uncertainty
  • Advance humanity's knowledge
A successful research experience should require you to interact with a faculty advisor, several Ph.D. students, participate in a lab's activities, and learn more about career opportunities. It should allow you to learn something you have not already learned in a class, and provide a safe place for you to fail. That's right, you need to learn how to fail in order to succeed.

How you can do research as an undergraduate.

Most opportunities to do research come in three forms: class related work for which you receive credit, employment for which you get paid, or none of these. Below are some examples:

  • Take an independent study
  • Do a research internship
  • Do a research co-op
  • Work on a project outside class
  • Do a capstone, honors project, or thesis
A subset of these opportunities exist at most schools. Internships are available also at other schools than the one you are attending. Some schools have programs only for undergraduates - these programs allow more interactions with peer undergraduate researchers and faculty, but not Ph.D. students. When choosing a project, be aware if it advances your knowledge, or it just requires you to use existing (programming) skills. A good research project pushes you a bit outside of your comfort zone.

When is the best time to do research as an undergraduate.

The best time to get involved in research varies based on the topic, the classes taken, and schedule constraints. For most students, junior year is a good time to pursue a research project in depth. Starting earlier might allow you to learn the mechanics of research and become more independent in your own projects, but if you have not taken some of the foundational classes in computer science you might end up spending your time more on the needed background (that you will also eventually learn in a class) than on the advanced topics themselves. The goal is to learn something that you did not (or would learn) in a class. Talking with a faculty can provide better guidance on choosing the best path for you. Many schools have some introductory classes on research and that can serve as a starting point for making connections with faculty.

Depending on your goals you might need to do research more than one semester. You can use any of the opportunities described above in a combination to achieve your goals. Examples of these goals can be publishing a paper, finishing an implementation, finishing some evaluation in depth. Most in-depth projects require two semesters. This timeframe can be achieved for example, by starting with doing a project for credit during the semester and continuing more in depth during the summer with an internship.

What are the outcomes of an undergraduate research project.

  • Code
  • Report
  • Thesis
  • Peer-reviewed published paper

As a faculty at Purdue University and Northeastern University I have advised over 35 undergraduate students in research. Often this research resulted in peer-reviewed published papers. Several of these students won CRA Undergraduate Research Awards and later went to graduate school and are now professors. Other had very successful careers in industry. Below are some examples of papers from my group which have undergraduate students as co-authors. If you want to get involved you can learn more about our projects [here].

MSNetViews: Geographically Distributed Management of Enterprise Network Security Policy. Iffat Anjun, Ramzah Rehman, Jessica Sokal, Ethan Leba, Ben Weintraub, Will Enck, Cristina Nita-Rotaru, Brad Reeves. ACM SACMAT 2023, June 2023.
Alternative Route-Based Attacks in Metropolitan Traffic Systems. Sidney La Fontaine, Naveen Muralidhar, Michael Clifford, Tina Eliassi-Rad, Cristina Nita-Rotaru. In the 8th Workshop on Safety and Security in Intelligent Vehicles (SSIV), with the 52nd IEEE/IFIP Dependable Systems and Networks (DSN), 2022. [PDF]
Removing the Reliance on Perimeters for Security using Network Views. Iffat Anjum, Daniel Kostecki, Ethan Leba, Jessica Sokal, Rajit Bharambe, William Enck, Cristina Nita-Rotaru, and Bradley Reaves. ACM SACMAT 2022. [PDF]
More than a Fair Share: Network Data Remanence Attacks against Secret Sharing-based Schemes. Leila Rashidi, Daniel Kostecki, Alexander James, Anthony Peterson, Majid Ghaderi, Samuel Jero, Cristina Nita-Rotaru, Hamed Okhravi Reihaneh Safavi-Naini. NDSS 2021. [PDF]
Automated Attacker Synthesis for Distributed Protocols. Max von Hippel, Cole Vick, Stavros Tripakis, Cristina Nita-Rotaru, March 2020. SafeComp 2020. [ arXiv].
Threat Detection for Collaborative Adaptive Cruise Control in Connected Cars. Matthew Jagielski, Nicholas Jones, Chung-Wei Lin, Cristina Nita-Rotaru, and Shinichi Shiraishi. In Proceedings of ACM Conference on Security and Privacy in Wireless Networks, 2018. Short paper. [PDF]
BEADS: Automated Attack Discovery in OpenFlow-based SDN Systems. Samuel Jero, Xiangyu Bu, Hamed Okhravi, Cristina Nita-Rotaru, Richard Skowyra, Sonia Fahmy. RAID 2017, September 2017. [PDF]
Toward Secure Network Coding in Wireless Networks: Threats and Challenges. Jing Dong, Reza Curtmola, Ruben Sethi, and Cristina Nita-Rotaru. In Proceedings of 4th Workshop on Secure Network Protocols (NPSEC) in conjunction with IEEE ICNP, Orlando, Florida, Oct 2008. [PDF]
Mitigating Attacks against Virtual Coordinate System Based Routing in Wireless Sensor Networks. Jing Dong, Brett Bhavar, Kurt E. Ackermann, and Cristina Nita-Rotaru. In First ACM Conference on Wireless Network Security (WiSec), Alexandria, VA, March 2008. [PDF].
Secure Group Communication in Wireless Mesh Networks. In Ninth IEEE International Symposium on a World of Wireless, Mobile and Multimedia Networks (WOWMOM), Newport Beach, CA, June, 2008. Jing Dong, Kurt E. Ackermann, and Cristina Nita-Rotaru. [PDF].
Steward: Scaling Byzantine Fault-Tolerant Systems to Wide Area Networks. Yair Amir, Claudiu Danilov, Danny Dolev, Jonathan Kirsch, John Lane, Cristina Nita-Rotaru, Josh Olsen, David Zage, In The International Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks (DSN-2006), Philadelphia, PA, June 2006. [PDF]. Also Technical Report CSD TR 05-029. [PDF] .
A Byzantine Resilient Distributed Position Service. Josh Olsen, David Zage and Cristina Nita-Rotaru. Extended Abstract. In The International Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks (DSN-2006), Philadelphia, PA, June 2006.
Gatling: Automatic Performance Attack Discovery in Large-Scale Distributed Systems. HyoJeong Lee, Jeff Seibert, Dylan Fistrovic, Charles Killian, and Cristina Nita-Rotaru. ACM Transactions on Systems and Information Security, issue 4, vol. 17. April 2015.
Node-Capture Resilient Key Establishment in Sensor Networks: Design Space and New Protocols. Andrew Newell, Hongyi Yao, Alex Ryker, Tracey Ho, and Cristina Nita-Rotaru. ACM Computing Surveys, vol. 47, issue 2, December 2014.
Mitigating Attacks against Virtual Coordinate System Based Routing in Wireless Sensor Networks. Jing Dong, Kurt E. Ackermann, Brett Bhavar, and C. Nita-Rotaru. In Transactions on Sensor Networks, vol 6., issue 4, 2010. [PDF]
Secure Group Communication in Wireless Mesh Networks. Jing Dong, Kurt E. Ackermann, and Cristina Nita-Rotaru. In Ad Hoc Networks Journal (Elsevier), Special Issue: Privacy and Security in Wireless Sensor and Ad Hoc Networks, vol. 7, no. 8, November 2009. [PDF]
STEWARD: Scaling Byzantine Fault-Tolerant Replication to Wide Area Networks. Yair Amir, Claudiu Danilov, Danny Dolev, Jonathan Kirsch, John Lane, Cristina Nita-Rotaru, Josh Olsen, and David Zage. In IEEE Transactions on Dependable and Secure Computing, vol. 7, no.1, Jan. 2010. [PDF]

Send your comments and questions to Cristina Nita-Rotaru